Video

London woman anonymously threatened with lawsuit over icy sidewalk

A London woman says she has received a threatening letter indicating that if she does clear the sidewalks of ice in front of her home, she will face a lawsuit.

City bylaws state it is not a homeowner's legal responsibility to ensure sidewalks are cleared

London woman threatened with lawsuit over icy city-maintained sidewalk 1:04

A London woman is speaking out after receiving an anonymous threat indicating that if she does not do a better job clearing ice from the sidewalk in front of her home, she will be sued. 

The unsigned letter was sent by registered mail and does not address Mariam Hamou by name. It states the sidewalk in front her house in Old North "is a hazard" because of ice. 

The letter then asks Hamou to apply salt to the area. 

"If you do not salt it and I fall and injure myself," the letter states. "I will sue you." 

An image of the anonymous letter received by Mariam Hamou threatening her with a lawsuit if she does not clear ice from the sidewalk in front of her house. (Mariam Hamou)

"At first I thought it was a joke," Hamou said. 

When she checked with neighbours, she said a number of homeowners on her street received a similar anonymous letter in the mail. 

Hamou said she doesn't know who sent it, but she would have preferred talking to the stranger face-to-face. 

"You could have knocked on my door," she said. "We could have talked about it. It's not right to send an anonymous letter. Put your name behind it. Especially when it says 'I will sue you,' that is a threat."

While the City of London encourages neighbours to clear sidewalks of ice and snow, it says they are under no legal obligation to do so. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"It's not nice," said John Parsons, the city's transportation and roadside operations manager, noting the city has the legal responsibility to clear snow and ice from all 1,500 kilometres of sidewalks in London. 

Parsons said the city only clears sidewalks to minimum standards laid out in provincial legislation and while homeowners have no legal responsibility to keep their sidewalks clear, they're more than welcome to go the extra mile if they chose.

"We encourage it," he said. "If you want to scrape it down a little bit more with your shovel, go ahead."

'I would be spooked'

Brian Goldfinger, a personal injury lawyer, said whoever sent the letter likely had their heart in the right place, but should have been more diplomatic about it. 

"I would be spooked out of my mind if I got that kind of threatening letter," he said.  

"If the city has acknowledged then the city is under obligation to keep the sidewalks clear," he said. "I would recommend the person who wrote the letter contact the city."

Goldfinger said from a legal point of view, it's important for people who are worried they might get hurt to contact the municipality to inform public officials about a treacherous section of sidewalk as a matter of public safety. 

Brian Goldfinger is a personal injury lawyer. (Brian Goldfinger)

"If the city doesn't get out there to clear the sidewalk or inspect it, at the very least it could be an indicator that the city is not doing its due diligence in regards to public safety."

Suing the city 'really difficult'

Even then, Goldfinger said, municipalities are protected from certain forms of litigation under provincial law, making potential lawsuits against the city for personal injuries more difficult. 

Unlike private homeowners, municipalities can't be sued for negligence, only gross negligence, which requires a far greater burden of proof. 

Even then, Goldfinger said, for a lawsuit against the city to proceed the plaintiff must inform the city by registered mail within 10 days of the injury, or a lawsuit is not possible under the law. 

"Suing the city is really, really difficult," he said. 

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this article stated that Brian Goldfinger is a personal injury lawyer in London, when in fact his Toronto-based firm's reach extends to London.
    Mar 08, 2019 9:02 AM ET

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: colin.butler@cbc.ca